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Number of stay-at-home dads climbs

21% now say they are choosing to be main caregivers

The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the last 25 years, reaching a peak of 2.2 million in 2010 before dipping slightly to 2 million, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. And although the Great Recession contributed to a sharp uptick, by far, the at-home dads in the fastest-growing segment say they’re home taking care of the kids because they want to be.

In 1989, only 5 percent of the 1.1 million at-home fathers said they were home to be primary caregivers. That share has increased four-fold now to 21 percent, a sign not only of the power of economics in reshaping traditional family structures but of shifting gender norms.

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‘‘The assumption that a lot of people make is that the number of stay-at-home dads went up because of the recession,” said Gretchen Livingston, author of the new report. “And while that’s absolutely true, even if you take out that trend altogether, the fact is, the number has been going up over time, regardless. And the biggest increase is in the share of fathers who want to stay home to take care of kids. That’s very striking.’’

While the number of at-home fathers has been on the rise, the actual number is in dispute, in part, Livingston said, because there just isn’t a lot of information collected about dads not at work. Livingston used the Current Population Survey, conducted by the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and included fathers ages 18 to 69 who reported living with at least one child younger than 18 who has not worked for pay in the prior year.

The Census Bureau limits the definition of at-home fathers to those living with children younger than 15 who are home as primary caretakers. That’s the fastest-growing segment of at-home fathers and now stands at around 214,000. Some at-home father groups say the number could be as high as 7 million because they also include the number of fathers who say they are primary caretakers but might work part-time out of the home.

Mike Stilwell, cofounder of the growing National At-Home Dad Network, say society has come a long way toward accepting stay-at-home dads.

“The more and more dads taking care of kids becomes acceptable to people, and the more they see how natural it is for a father to do it, I think it’s going to keep getting better,” he said. “I just wish I’d done it earlier.’’

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